Compare gas vs. electric water heaters to find which type is the best for your home. The article will help you understand the differences between heaters powered by natural or propane gas and electricity, with the benefits, pros and cons.
When selecting the type of energy source, you should also consider the fuel availability and the cost, the size of the unit, and energy efficiency.
You'll notice that all well-known manufacturers of water heaters in North America, such as Rheem, AO Smith, Bradford White, State, Reliance, Kenmore, and John Wood, include models that are mainly fueled by gas and electricity.
Electricity is widely available in North America, while natural gas and propane are less. If you have more than one fuel type available in your area, it is a good idea to compare its costs.
For better understanding and easier selection, we will compare gas vs. electric water heaters, including pros and cons, cost comparison, energy efficiency, selection options, main elements, and how they work.
|Gas water heaters
|Electric water heaters
|Easy to install
|Easy to fix
Gas-powered water heaters utilize powerful burners that heat water fast, and as the gas price is lower, the operating costs are lower than the electric models.
When buying the electric type, the initial cost is lower than if buying a gas water heater, and the installation costs are lower. With gas-powered units, you must provide a venting system and gas supply line, making them less safe than electric models and more expensive to install. Electric models are also easier to maintain.
Electric units can be installed almost anywhere inside the house, especially point-of-use and tankless water heaters, while gas-powered models require a proper location and more space. They need or might need a vent system, sufficient air draw, chimney, proximity of the outside wall, electricity to power vent models, and gas line. All these requirements increase the price.
If natural gas is not available in your area, the other option is to use propane gas. Propane is cheaper than electricity but costs more than natural gas, and it requires storage and regular fuel delivery, which contributes to higher costs.
Water tank heaters come in different sizes, from 30 to 100 gallons, and the larger the tank is, the more you will pay. Expect to pay between $300 for the smallest basic model to over $1500 for the large advanced model, such as hybrids.
Electric water heaters with a capacity of 50 gallons will cost you from $400 and between $600 and $3500 to install (materials and labor).
Gas models will cost you more than electric for the same tank size; over $500 to buy, and from $700 to $2700 on average for installation (materials and labor).
In general, electric models cost $100 - $200 less than gas water heaters, while installation costs much more due to gas hookup and venting installation.
Note that the average plumbers' labor rates are around $150, while electricians' rates are approximately $100, but it depends on the region and availability.
Energy Factor or EF rating is often used when choosing the water heater. Water heaters with high energy factors are Energy Star compliant, which brings down the operating costs and, at the same time, helps the environment – due to lower gas emissions. The utility company could even offer incentives and government tax breaks. So the higher EF, the more efficient the water heater is, but...
Energy factors of gas water heaters range from 0.57 to over 0.9, for condensing models, where the EF of 0.67 and higher meet the Energy Star standards. On the other side, electric units have an EF over 0.9, but are not Energy Star approved.
Electric heat pumps or hybrids are the only electric-powered heaters that meet the Energy Star requirements. This type of electric water heater combines heating elements and heat pumps, resulting in higher efficiency and lower energy costs than gas-fired. They cost more than conventional electric and gas types.
The most energy-efficient models you can buy are high efficiency (HE) and condensing.
The recovery rate (in GPH) is essential when choosing a water heater as it indicates how much hot water is heated in a given time. Most 50-gal electric models have a recovery rate of approximately 20 gallons, while gas has around 40 gallons (at 90 F) for the same tank size.
The power of gas models varies from 30,000 to 180,000 BTUs, and the more it has, the faster it will heat the water.
The electric type has heating elements with power ranging from 1,440 to 5,500 watts.
The advanced type of gas heaters uses the gas control valve that provides more reliable and accurate performance, with better temperature control and faster hot water recovery. Such gas valves come with an LCD display or LED diodes, informing users about the status, errors, and other useful info.
Models that are direct vent and use a thermopile do not need electric power, which is not the case with the electric units, so - no electricity, no hot water.
Heat pumps are the only electric units with advanced electronics (smart), such as those found on gas models.
Gas-powered water heaters tend to have higher recovery rates than electric ones but can waste energy if they are equipped with a pilot light.
When comparing gas versus electric water heaters and reviewing their parts, you can notice that gas models are more complex, therefore, more expensive.
They both use the anode rod, ceramic/glass lining, dip tube, and TPR valve, but the main difference is how they heat water.
If planning to install the electric tankless water heater in the old house, it might be required to replace the whole wiring and the electrical panel so the unit can deal with the higher amps.
Gas units require a gas line, gas control valve, gas burner with the combustion chamber, pilot light or electrode, thermocouple, and venting-exhaust system. In contrast, electric units require only heating elements and thermostats to heat the water.
There is a greater variety of gas-powered water heaters than electric, as seen below:
Gas units can work with a lower amount of water in the tank as the gas burner is located at the bottom of the unit. At the same time, electric models require a water level above the heating elements because they can burn out, resulting in element failure.
Like their electric counterparts, gas water heaters use a water storage tank to store water. Gas utilizes a gas burner to heat water, while electric uses one or two heating elements (electric resistance coils).
Gas models utilize a gas control valve with an integrated thermostat to control the gas flow and temperature, while the electric has thermostats attached to the heating elements. Gas on the gas burner could be ignited manually with the piezo or a hot surface igniter.
As opposed to the electric type, gas models must incorporate vents to remove the product of combustion. These can be direct power, power-direct, and an atmospheric vent.
It is useful to know that some gas models could operate without electricity.
You can find detailed explanations of how an electric water heater works here.
For gas heaters and how they work, use this article.
In the US and Canada, natural gas is the most economical way to heat water. If natural gas is available in your area, the recommendation is to buy a gas water heater and take advantage of the long-term savings due to lower operating costs. If you live in a rural area and there is no natural gas supply to your home, you can go with the propane gas or electrical type.
Electric models are great options if you don't have access to gas or don't want to pay high purchase and installation costs.
The recommendation is to get a heat pump with high efficiency and Energy Star compliance so you can take advantage of daily savings, government tax credits, and utility rebates.